Part 2: My Memories of Spiritual India
I was stopped leaving the New Delhi airport by security.
“Where is your baggage?”
“I have all I need in my fanny pack. see?”
I showed the guard my passport, travelers checks, and Ayurvedic herbs, like that was going to take the place of luggage.
“Ok” he said inexplicably.
And in the next moment I was standing in New Delhi, India.
After 20 years of teaching meditation and yoga, practicing Ayurveda & Jyotish astrology, here I was in the ‘Motherland.’ I made it. I achieved step 1 of my goal — go to India. Step 2 was to get to the Himalayas and find a guru. It was mid winter and while Delhi was 80 degrees, the Himalayas would be as cold as any northern state in the USA at this time. I had my sub zero parker with me so — it must have looked quite funny in sweltering temperatures, but I was prepared.
I went to the local YMCA restaurant for breakfast and to figure out how to get to the Himalayas. An American smiled and invited me to his table. He was a missionary and began telling me about the sights of Delhi. I came for spiritual purposes and he was telling me about the Red Fort and the wars that were fought there. This was so opposite my vision of India that my heart wanted to implode. It was at that point I remembered a swami in the USA gave me an address of a swami in Benares and I thought, let me just get to some spiritual oasis.
Next thing I knew I was on a plane to Varanasi (Benares), then in a rickshaw to the swami’s ashram. As I stepped out in front of the ashram and entered the ashram gate, wide-eyed men in white robes stared at me puzzlingly. I showed them a letter of introduction from the USA swami and they invited me in. They said it was ‘Aarti’ time (bells, incense, and worship of the deities) and if I wouldn’t mind waiting until after this time I could meet their guru.
What a lovely multi-sensory experience, devotional singing and bells, the smells of dhoop (gooey incense), colorful photos and statues of Krishna, Shiva, Lakshmi, Durga and more. I was starting to feel a bit settled spiritually now.
After Aarti we sat in the hall waiting for the swami. The walls had paintings of past swamis of this ashram and astonishingly, they all had similar facial features of my father. Hmmm.
Over the decades I have found that Americans project their own needs on swamis, and turns out, I was no different back then. Suddenly their guru entered the hall and our eyes met.
My first thought, ‘His eyes are bloodshot,’ I thought. ‘Not impressed.’
Yes that was my honest first impression, realizing I was expecting to see a guru who was in perfect physical health. Fortunately as we talked through a translator I began to enjoy this man. They invited me to reside in the ashram and a few of the men took me to a Gandhi ashram cloth shop to purchase a blanket and some other necessities. I was given a small cement room with a cot and told they wake up at 3 am for tea and a walk. I was ready.
It was pitch dark the next day at 3 am when they began banging gongs melodically and loudly. I wondered how the neighbors were ok with this daily human alarm clock. The swami and the group of us walked around the city going from temple to temple making offerings before returning at 4am for 3 hours of meditation.
The room was pitch dark. The swami sat on his mat. About 20 or so others sat on their mats and we silently meditated. We did this every morning, and again every afternoon from 3–5pm. Life was simple, though a bit boring for me.
During the day people there were lovely and friendly and did their best to make me feel at home. They were also very interested in why an American would leave his world to come to India. We had good talks, good food, and occasionally I would take day walks into town to visit the shops and get a feel for the city.
One day we visited the site where Buddha gave his first talk after attaining enlightenment. That was quite a special place. There I also met a Jain monk and picked up a few booklets about two remarkable saints of India’s past, Ramakrisha and Ramana Marharashi. It was a lovely experience.
Another great experience I had was being introduced to a professor and the dean of Benares Hindu University’s (BHU) Ayurveda department. BHU is India’s equivalent to Harvard. I was invited on a ward tour with the dean and the students as well as having a private training session with him. Also I had daily training with one of the professors on the 108 top Ayurvedic herbs.
It must have been a week or so of living this lifestyle when one night as I lay in bed I realized my heart was still empty for spiritual connection and began talk to God.
‘I have come to meet you but we have not connected yet. I have come more than half way to meet you. I feel it is your turn to come a little bit to meet me.’
Bold? Perhaps. But wait until you hear what happened next.
The next day toward the end of morning meditation something strange began to happen. One by one, people began to stand up and leave. This was quite unusual and I became aware something was going on. After a while there was no one in the room but the swami and me. He began whispering something and felt drawn to him. I laid down on the floor facing him, feeling a connection and an urge to get closer. At some point the doors opened and the lights came on and that was the end of the morning meditation.
The rest of the day was normal, and then at the end of the next morning meditation the swami was there with his assistant and myself. He began talking to the assistant who translated to me.
“Guruji is giving you a mantra, you are initiated”
The aide was ecstatic, as was I. Only I didn’t tell him I realized the real initiation happened the day before. My prayer to God was answered the very next morning, and now two days later I got the confirmation. The swami, my new Guru told me to meditate as much of the day as possible. I would sit in his room while he met with people and wrote letters. But something strange happened. As I meditated, unlike any other type of meditation I had done, this time I was feeling extremely dizzy and began to sway and practically fall down from the seated position.
My guruji, Swami Narayan Tirtha, told me that this was the kundalini shakti energy moving in me and this was a great experience. He said I could lie down to meditate. And for the rest of the time in India I practiced prone meditation.
I came to learn they have a dual lineage, ‘Tirtha’ (meaning spiritual portal) from the Shankaracharya (sort of like the Pope for India), and another called ‘Siddhayoga’. My guru’s guru (grandfather guru) was the stand-in Shankaracharya while his guru (great grandfather guru) was invited to visit the USA by the renown Paramhamsa Yogananda who made a huge spiritual mark in America and the world with his respected Self-Realization Fellowship. His Holiness, Swami Bharati Krishna Tirtha wrote two books about his time in the USA, the first Shankaracharya to visit the states.
Our other lineage is a form of meditation that allows the kundalini shakti or chi or spiritual life energy to ‘meditate you’ and so it could shake the body or make one swoon like I experienced.
A day or two after receiving initiation (diksha) I was given a hand-written manuscript — an English translation of my grandfather guru’s (His Holiness Swami Shankar Purushottam Tirtha) book about meditation, called Yoga Vani: Instructions for the Attainment of Siddhayoga. I was told all my meditation experiences would be explained in that book.
Quick Recap: I spent the past 10 years meditating and reading spiritual books about enlightenment but they all left me empty. I gratefully thought cautiously took the manuscript up to the roof to read. But before I opened the book I said had another talk with God.
“Please make this book one that touches my heart; make it different than all the other books I’ve read.”
Then I turned to the first page and read the first two sentences;
“Disciple: My father, everyone in this world is experiencing interminable miseries and sorrows, being caught in the meshes of illusory and unsubstantial desire for happiness, ceaselessly moving in the eddy of birth and death. Be so kind as to advise me how to escape easily from these sorrows and from the iron grip of birth and death.”
Wow! Language that was human, compassionate, and ‘real’ to me! No lofty incomprehensible language. The world is suffering, how do we stop suffering. I got it! I loved it. I couldn’t put the book down. I ran to my guru and said how unique this book is and it ought to be published in English in America.
He said, “Ok, do it.”
What?! I don’t know anything about publishing.
But it was a huge honor and we were all so excited about this. And I had a huge question looming, how can this be done?
By the end of December and I had spent about a month in the ashram when my heart began to be called back to the states. I had no idea what I would do in America, only that I had a strong feeling that was where I belonged now.
It was amazing how this saint in India was able to find me — a needle in a haystack in the US, pick me up and bring me to his ashram and give me my connection to God. I felt so blessed. Now it was time to leave. Saying a tearful and heartfelt goodby to my guru, promising to write to him monthly, and publish the book, I returned to America with no other plans or idea what I would do.
Part 3: Pioneering Ayurveda in America & Becoming a Publisher.
For the past 4 decades Swamiji (the Orange Cowboy) has been helping others with meditation, yoga, ayurveda, shamanic/energy/trance healing, & psychic mediumship.
He offers group mediumship events, beginners meditation courses for colleges, businesses, and churches around the globe.
He spoke to the White House alternative medicine commission, wrote a #1 best seller, the Ayurveda Encyclopedia, and has presented at John Hopkins U and other medical universities internationally.
Learn more about the author, Swamiji at OrangeCowboy.com
Learn more about the Tirtha/Siddhayoga Lineage & Swami Shankar Purushottam Tirtha’s books here